Overview: War and Weapons

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Author: Metta Spencer

Even before our primate ancestors began to walk upright, there were wars—times when whole human communities or groups within a community tried to kill each other. Scholars have reached this conclusion partly on the basis of Jane Goodall’s discovery that our closest primate relative, the chimpanzee, engages in war,(1) and partly on the basis of archaeological evidence. One site of skeletons was found in Kenya dating back 9,500 to 10,500 years showing that a group of 27 people had been massacred together.(2) Indeed, there is strong evidence that levels of violence were higher in prehistoric times than today.(3) One example is a cemetery about 14,000 years old where about 45 percent of the skeletons showed signs of violent death.(4) An estimated 15 percent of deaths in primitive societies were caused by warfare.

But life did not consistently become friendlier as our species spread and developed. By one estimate, there were 14,500 wars between 3500 BC and the late twentieth century. These took around 3.5 billion lives.(5)

Can we conclude, then, that war is simply an intrinsic part of “human nature,” so that one cannot reasonably hope to overcome it? No, for there is more variation in the frequency and extent of warfare than can be attributed to genetic differences. In some societies, war is completely absent. Douglas Fry, checking the ethnographic records, identified 74 societies that have clearly been non-warring; some even lacked a word for “war.” The Semai of Malaysia and the Mardu of Australia are examples.(6)

We may gain insights about solutions to warfare by exploring the variations in its distribution, type, and intensity. We begin with the best news: We are probably living in the most peaceful period in human history!


Infographic, Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS)

Historical Changes in Rates of War

Steven Pinker is the scholar who most convincingly argues that violence has declined, both recently and over the millennia. Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now, contains a graph showing the numbers of battle deaths by year from 1945 to 2015. A huge spike represents World War II, of course, for that was most lethal war in human history, causing at least 55 million deaths. How can we reconcile that ghastly number with any claim that the modern era is a peaceful epoch?

Pinker’s proof is based on distinguishing sharply between absolute numbers and rates. To be sure, 55 million is a huge number, but the Mongol Conquests killed 40 million people back in the thirteenth century, out of a world population only about one-seventh the size of the world’s 1950 population. Pinker says that if World War II had matched the Mongols’ stupendous rate of killing, about 278 million people would have been killed.

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Personally I find the thought of Nuclear War pretty scary and to have heard stories from survivors makes it even more real and terrifying. To think that our world could end in a heartbeat threatens to throw me into despair. Its only the kindness of some humans that gives me hope in addition to a belief in a God Creator who is taking care of us.

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Are countries that have development projects under partnership with China’s Belt Road Initiative under China’s nuclear umbrella? This is unclear to me at present.

Attached is an interesting video that I came across on Seeker’s Youtube channel. A weapons physicist (Dr. Greg Spriggs) at Lawrence-Livermore National Laboratory began digitizing the test films from the mid-twentieth century. It turns out, the initial calculations re: the weapons’ yield were done by hand. There is concern that these calculations may be off by as much as 30%. This reminds me of how one of the US nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands misfired and the nuclear explosion was not a “clean reaction” and the byproducts that were produced had significantly longer half-lives than anticipated. This ended up with widespread nuclear contamination in the vicinity of the test site in the Marshall Islands. Could this misfire have been caused due to one of these calculation errors?


Meet Project West Ford — in the 1950s-1960s – the United States of America launched 480 million copper needles into the upper atmosphere for Cold War radio communication. Some of them are allegedly still up there, orbiting in the lower-gravity.

“The same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on Washington and Beatlemania was born, the United States launched half a billion whisker-thin copper wires into orbit in an attempt to install a ring around the Earth. It was called Project West Ford, and it’s a perfect, if odd, example of the Cold War paranoia and military mentality at work in America’s early space program.

The Air Force and Department of Defense envisioned the West Ford ring as the largest radio antenna in human history. Its goal was to protect the nation’s long-range communications in the event of an attack from the increasingly belligerent Soviet Union.
“A potential solution was born in 1958 at MIT’s Lincoln Labs, a research station on Hanscom Air Force Base northwest of Boston.
Project Needles, as it was originally known, was Walter E. Morrow’s idea. He suggested that if Earth possessed a permanent radio reflector in the form of an orbiting ring of copper threads, America’s long-range communications would be immune from solar disturbances and out of reach of nefarious Soviet plots.”


On October 21, 1961, NASA launched the first batch of West Ford dipoles into space. A day later, this first payload had failed to deploy from the spacecraft, and its ultimate fate was never completely determined.

“U.S.A. Dirties Space” read a headline in the Soviet newspaper *Pravda. *

**Ambassador Adlai Stevenson was forced to make a statement before the UN declaring that the U.S. would consult more closely with international scientists before attempting another launch. Many remained unsatisfied. Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle went so far as to accuse the U.S. of undertaking a military project under “a façade of respectability,” referring to West Ford as an “intellectual crime.”

“But not all the needles returned to Earth. Thanks to a design flaw, it’s possible that several hundred, perhaps thousands of clusters of clumped needles still reside in orbit around Earth, along with the spacecraft that carried them.

The copper needles were embedded in a naphthalene gel designed to evaporate quickly once it reached the vacuum of space, dispersing the needles in a thin cloud. But this design allowed metal-on-metal contact, which, in a vacuum, can weld fragments into larger clumps.”

It seems like war has changed over a long period of time. Traditionally wars were fought with simple weapons such as stones, spears or anything else that could be fired like a projectile. Now the consequence of creating weapons has led us to an arms race and weapons can now be deployed that wipe out not only cities but could lay waste to continents. And rather than fight a war that kills with a flash of light are now fighting a “quiet war”; a war of information, a war of business, a war of words and sometimes it erupts into localized violence. We live in an age of information and communication which sits on the brink of chaos and disorder. By cooperating with each other we have a far greater chance of building a better world.

Rotarians are Peaceniks!
By Richard Denton
“What are old conservative Rotarian businessmen (and now women), doing at a United Nations (UN) Preparatory talk on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)”, asked a non-Rotarian female peace person.
This is still the concept that many of the public think about Rotary. Some may know us as a service group like Lions and Kiwanis, but that is about it. We need to do a much better job of branding ourselves, of getting our Rotary name out into the public through our community services such as building parks, building youth facilities and Adopting Road clean ups, sponsoring fund-raisers and donating to worthy organizations and other community projects. But we also need to promote our other programs; Rotary student exchanges, but also the work of the Rotary Foundation – Polio Plus, Rotary scholarships that are actually worth more money and can be done in any university, compared to the Rhodes Scholarship that is better known. We need to promote our Peace Fellowships either the yearlong program or the three month program to university students.
We as Rotarians and we need to get the general populace to know about the history of Rotarians being active starting the United Nations and the International Bill of Human Rights.
Two years ago, I was at the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and was witness to how congenial all 124 states were (all non-nuclear states except the Netherlands, a NATO member that has American nuclear weapons on its soil, along with Belgium, Germany, Italy and Turkey). One state would rise and compliment the previous speaker, then make their recommendation for a change on the Article under discussion and then say, Madame Chair, if you would like to change the wording or put my ideas into another article, please feel free to do so. After all the states had said their piece, the Chair asked us Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) for our comments. On Wednesday, they went into an “In Camera Session” and allowed us NGOs to stay present. As a result, 122 countries voted in favour of the TPNW with Singapore abstaining and Holland voting against it. It was the most cooperative meeting that I have witnessed. The Preamble was something that our Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could have written, including references to protecting women and children, the environment, and the people harmed by radiation, the Hibakusha.
This time in April-May over two weeks, we four Rotarian Action Group for Peace members beheld the opposite. States were organized into various factions; NATO, Arab, Russian and Allies, the US and their nuclear umbrella states, that argued amongst themselves. When a speaker was speaking, a din was heard from others talking although when the US or Russia spoke, you could hear a pin drop. People would call others “liars” in a raised voice. Consensus meant “a veto” by the Permanent Five (P5) members of the Security Council and the other four nuclear countries, as opposed to working towards an understanding. The topics were on 1) nuclear disarmament and security assurances, 2) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its role of preventing proliferation through Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZ that are primarily in the Southern Hemisphere but should be in and around the Korean peninsula, Middle East and the Arctic) and 3) the IAEA’s role of promoting nuclear power. It is only this last area that the IAEA has succeeded and to which all the states, the nine nuclear and the others achieved agreement on the “inalienable rights to nuclear power”. At the end, the chair made two drafts of recommendations that the various states could not agree.
“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our thinking. Thus we are drifting toward catastrophe beyond conception. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” – Albert Einstein.
Isn’t the atomic bomb just a bigger better bomb? No, it is so destructive that it puts dust into the atmosphere causing a nuclear winter that causes death by famine. It also releases a tremendous amount of radiation that also causes death by cancers, heart disease, renal disease, etc. It is indiscriminate, killing civilians and all life over a prolonged period of time in distant geographic areas. This is why from a humanitarian point of view, we can never use them. They kill everything.
This might be left out
{What then is a nuclear weapon? There are two types, the atomic bomb, that was dropped on Hiroshima (Little Boy) where a large atom, highly enriched uranium 235 (or plutonium 239 – Fat Man on Nagasaki) is broken in about half, fission, releasing a great deal of energy and two new atoms that are also radioactive such as strontium 90, Iodine 131, cesium 137 and a host of other radioactive isotopes. The hydrogen bomb uses fusion to make a new atom from two hydrogen atoms also causing a huge release of energy. The hydrogen thermonuclear device can be smaller in size and more powerful, but still needs a fission bomb to ignite the process. There are the acute effects; of a firestorm evaporating everything, high winds making glass, etc. projectiles, and a pressure wave that knocks down everything. All medical facilities and health care professionals would be destroyed. There is thus no treatment for the survivors. Then there are the chronic effects of radiation that causes cancers, heart disease and kidney disease, etc. In Canada, radon gas is the number two cause of lung cancer. Also as mentioned, dust that would be sent into the atmosphere, would block out the sun, lower temperatures and result in crop failures and famine and death. A limited exchange of just half the nuclear arsenal from India and Pakistan would kill two billion people, outright and from starvation over the next ten years.}
When I grew up during the Cold War, my parents looked at building a bomb shelter in the basement of our house, or moving to Australia or New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere. As a school child, I would listen to practice drills of sirens to hide under our desks. None of these would have worked in actuality. At that time, there were just the two nations; the United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that were involved. Now we have various trouble spots of the Koreas, India and Pakistan, the Middle East and Iran and the US as well as the US and Russia. This is making us more unsafe. Russia and the US have also pulled out of “no first use”, still have about 1,400 weapons on “hair trigger alert” and have pulled out of previous treaties such as the Intermediate range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)and the US has abandoned the Iranian Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) despite the IAEA saying that Iran is in compliance. A new STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) of 2021 is also threatened not to be endorsed. Further, the nine nuclear states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals.
Some say that we need nuclear weapons for Deterrence. But they don’t deter against accidents, miscalculations, or terrorists. In fact, they didn’t deter the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK-North Korea) from attacking the Republic of Korea (ROK – South Korea) and this was just after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Deterrence also didn’t stop Argentina from attacking nuclear Britain over the Falklands.
Rotary is a non-partisan organization and not to be involved in politics. But what is a definition of being political? To some, it is another word for controversial. But RI President Rassin in the April Rotarian, page 24 said in reference to the climate crisis “I’m not talking politics. I’m talking about our world and how to make it a better place. We’re in a position where with all the people Rotary has around the world, we can make a difference.” When we look at our Four Way Test, we note that having nine nuclear countries “are not fair to all concerned”. As I found at the NPT discussions, they are not “building good will and better friendship”. If one nuclear weapon is exploded, it certainly is not “beneficial to all concerned.”
While at the conference, there were also side events held on site where there was a more affable discussion about various topics. One was on “Social Movements”. These are characterized by a ground swell of people coming from different points of view, with different primary issues but all working together for a common goal. I think the Greta Thunberg mobilizing students, and students against gun violence and now RAGfP wanting to get rid of nuclear weapons is becoming a new social movement. The Nobel Peace Prize was given to the International Campaign Against Nuclear weapons (ICAN) in 2017 to recognize how this organization brought many – over 160 peace groups together to get the world to pass the TPNW. I remain optimistic.

Have Rotarians always been so wise? I think you started letting women join a few years ago. Has that changed anything about the organization’s culture?

The amount of information we have to deal with is enormous. The united states is an empire that has been starting to split down the middle, trump vs non-trump supporters. The term “fake news” is bandied around to explain how reliable news sources are becoming few and far between. Television networks are seen as dissemination vehicles of bad information in some cases. Truth and lies are more and more becoming harder to separate. It is important to know the sources of reliable information that are available and stay close to them. That is what I hope people will look for and I think this is the Greening of America by Charles A. Reich referred to in his book starkly contrasted by 1984 by George Orwell that describes a dystopian future where the state controls everything …even our thought processes. Hopefully technology will bring us closer to a better world but we need to think carefully what we want our better world to be.

Having a balanced perspective of both males and females is essential for building solutions to the world’s problems. Including women in all aspects of culture is certainly making our world a more tolerant and accepting place. Intelligence and problem solving that both sexes provide is integral to any kind of improvement.

What is “EMP”?
A Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) is a short, intense pulse of a radio wave that is produced by a nuclear detonation.

Its radius is much greater than the destruction caused by the heat and the blast wave of the nuclear weapon. For example, the pulse of an explosion about 100 km high would cover an area of 4 million km2. An explosion about 350 km high could, for example, cover most of North America, with a voltage of a power that is a million times greater than that of a thunderbolt. That is to say, if the detonation of a nuclear bomb is done from a sufficient height, even when there is not such a great physical destruction, it could affect the life of the inhabitants of a whole country or of several countries.

By the way, killer robots don’t look like robots at all. They are just machines that don’t have human operators. One might look like a vacuum cleaner or a street sweeper.

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Polls show that most of the world’s population opposes killer robots. We need to stop them now.

Great man!

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